René Acevedo, Julia’s twin, is diagnosed with Schizophrenia during his first year of college. This severe and persistent mental illness becomes the backdrop for the changes that rock the lives of each member of the Acevedo family in my first novel Covering the Sun with My Hand. As I was immersed in creating the play inspired by this novel, workshop members wondered how the psychiatrist would so easily make this diagnosis without tests or procedures. The story takes place in the mid seventies before the advent of many of today’s diagnostic tools and treatments but many of the same problems exist today.
I’ve had many private emails from readers who were strangers and also talks with friends alike who shared similar stories they too experienced with family members who were struck with signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses. The overwhelming message I received was that these loving family members shared in the plight of coping with the often devastating effects.
My work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner has shown me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is still bountiful ignorance and stigma regarding mental health and this is an unfortunate fact. The ill person may be expected to pull it together because those who lack education may believe that they can get better if they really want to improve. Try getting rid of high blood pressure through intention. Sure, medication, good nutrition, excercise, and meditation help but doesn’t eradicate certain types of hypertension. This is similar to mental illness.
Family members who provide care for their loved ones must make hard decisions. One of them is how much of their own lives do they place aside in the hopes they could affect powerful change by being present and giving of themselves. I’ve heard vastly different reactions. One early beta reader found my book revolting and informed me there was no real problem. The protagonist could have easily gone on with her life and not entertain the notion that she should stay home in hopes of helping her family. Other readers were grateful to see what could very well have been their own narratives filled with conflict in print.
If you or someone you know is flailing while swimming in the thick soup of mental illness here are some links for support that might be helpful. Check them out:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
For friends and family members
Supporting a family member with mental illness
Covering the Sun with My Hand is the second place winner of the International Latino Book Awards 2015 Best First Novel Category. The novel is currently available only on this website. It will soon be available via Amazon as I’m in the process of transitioning publishers. Click the Paypal button on this site if you would like to purchase a signed copy.